Broadband investment a key to our future
The expansion of broadband service has been coming up as a topic in the news quite a bit lately.
In Thursday’s edition, we reported an announcement from Sen. Joe Manchin’s office of the awarding of a little over $18,000 from the federal Emergency Connectivity Fund to help provide wireless and broadband internet service and purchase computers and other equipment.
The award was part of about $561,000 announced for the state, with the Mineral County School District and Cabell County Schools also receiving funding.
In recent years, many of our local public school districts have invested in similar technology, providing computers or tablets for their students and establishing Wi-Fi hotspots at the schools for use when they have had to switch to remote learning as part of pandemic precautions.
These efforts are good news for our educational systems as technology changes and the delivery of lessons change with it. Improved internet service makes it easier for teachers and students to access information, thus enhancing what is available in the classroom. It also provides an avenue to connect with others, including guest speakers, experts in certain fields or other classrooms.
In the wider community, officials with the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission have been visiting with county commissions throughout the Northern Panhandle, gathering support for an ongoing effort to install a broadband “backbone” network in the region.
A couple of years ago, discussions had been held amongst officials in Hancock and Brooke counties, who joined forces to lobby state officials for funding to assist in broadband expansion. At some point in the last year, those efforts have grown to include Ohio, Marshall and Wetzel counties, with the current proposal to have the “backbone” run from New Martinsville north to Chester.
BHJ’s executive director, Mike Paprocki, was at the Hancock County Commission meeting Thursday, and spoke with Brooke County commissioners last week, providing an update on the efforts, and noting American Rescue Plan funds could be used to cover any local costs.
For Hancock County, there are four optional branches officials are discussing to provide additional service areas, and it was noted officials especially would like to ensure broadband service is provided to the area of north Weirton, which is a current focus for economic development efforts in the region.
That would be a smart move, of course, as it would further enhance the ongoing service efforts and hopefully make those areas more attractive for businesses and industries looking for a new home. When those businesses choose to build in our area, it means new jobs, new taxes and better services, possibly new residents. Those developments then would spur additional development, creating a cascade of growth.
In addition to all of that, more broadband provides an opportunity to attract more internet service providers to the area. We only have a couple of viable providers right now, so if there is a chance to attract others, that would spur some competition, and possibly even create an environment with better pricing options for local residents and businesses.
This is the kind of investment our communities, and in fact our entire state, has needed for years now. Tourism is great, and has provided many benefits to certain portions of West Virginia, but we need to prepare for the future while also meeting the needs of our current society. Communication is key in today’s world, and that includes internet and cellular access.
I look forward to seeing where this goes in the coming months.
(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)